When Is Dialysis Needed?

Sharing from Phyllis Dickerson:

“Tell me about a person’s creatinine in your urine. How high can it reach before you have to go on dialysis? And do you lose some kidney function as you get old?”

A person needs dialysis when he/she develops end stage kidney failure –usually by the time he/she loses about 85 to 90 percent of kidney function and has a GFR of <15. There are usually symptoms in this stage, including nausea, fatigue, swelling, and throwing up. However, even if a person doesn’t show any symptom, when the lab test results meet the criteria, dialysis will be the necessary treatment.

Kidney Failure

It’s defined as kidney failure when a person’s remaining kidney function is less than 15%.


GFR – glomerular filtration rate is the best test to measure your level of kidney function and determine your stage of kidney disease. It’s not a direct number from lab but doctors calculate it from the results of a person’s blood creatinine test, age, body size and gender. The GFR tells the stage of kidney disease and helps the doctor plan the treatment. If the GFR number is low, the kidney is not working as well as it should. The earlier kidney disease is detected, the better the chance of slowing or stopping its progression.

The normal GFR for adults is 90. Here’s a table that you may refer to.

Age (years) Average estimated GFR
20–29 116
30–39 107
40–49 99
50–59 93
60–69 85
70+ 75

The calculation of GFR is a bit complicated but there’re online tools available. This links to the GFR calculator developed by the National Kidney Foundation.

GFR calculator

Please note that the creatinine value used in this tool is of blood(serum) creatinine, not urine creatinine.

Aging & Kidney Function

When people age, their kidney function usually gets weaker. However, even for the senior group aged 70+, they keep 75% of the kindey function.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.